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The U.K. Is Offering Parents Access to Free Childcare

Two kids at daycare
Two kids at daycare

I’ve seen the classic comedy 9 to 5 many, many times. I love the chemistry between Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. But my favorite part (spoiler alert) is the end of the film where we see all the amazing pro-mom and pro-woman changes that happened in the office while the male boss was, uh, unavailable. With the women in charge of managing the office, they were able to implement time share jobs, improve the decor of the office, and bring in childcare.

Childcare.

This little word, for many of us parents, is a deciding factor in not only where we work, but how many hours a week we can work. Not being able to work the amount of hours you want or need can create a lot of stress.

I know this firsthand because when my son was not yet 2 years old, I was in this horrible catch-22 of unemployment. I needed to work. I wanted to work. However, in order for me to be able to work, I would need childcare. I couldn’t afford childcare unless I was working. Do you see the loop of frustration? No job without childcare, but I couldn’t pay for childcare without earning an income.

For many parents deciding to go back to work after welcoming a baby into their lives is a choice. Some other parents make the choice to stay home. I wanted/needed to go out and work and I couldn’t. It was a real struggle for me.

You would think our struggle would have eased up since the release of 9 to 5 in 1980, but it’s gotten worse. American parents are being hit hard with balancing the costs of going back to work. Data from the Pew Research Center indicates that working moms in 2011 spent 70 percent more on the costs of childcare than working moms in 1985.

The Wall Street Journal did a spotlight on childcare issues after President Obama spoke about the need for change in a 2015 State of the Union address.

“Access to affordable childcare can have a big impact on workers, yet companies have largely stayed out of the debate, beyond offering programs for workers to put away pre-tax dollars to spend on childcare. Seven percent of U.S. employers offer on-site daycare, while 2% provide vouchers or subsidies.”

This isn’t only an issue for middle America; celebrities also get frustrated by the challenges of navigating working and childcare.

Recently Zoe Saldana, actress and mom to infant twins, voiced her own annoyance over the seemingly crummy double standard that exists within the creation of film contracts for male stars and female stars. The perks that are automatically expected and paid out for male stars — and you can fill in the blanks here with just about anything (seriously) — don’t rate an eye roll. But the cost of childcare for a female star? Um, not so much.

Having worked in the film industry and on films that shot on location, I can attest that there are many conveniences that are provided to the cast of a film. It’s not just about earning a salary, it’s about being comfortable and not having to worry about the little things — especially on days with long hours.

Saldana told USA Today she has observed movie studios taking care of male co-stars by “paying for private jets, a coterie of assistants and bodyguards or booking a really phat penthouse.” Studios have even provided upgrades that amounted to “[male actors] staying in a yacht instead of them staying on land.”

When it came time for Saldana to negotiate contracts, there was a decidedly different attitude. She knew at least one project had considered writing her out when she was pregnant, but now that she was a mom and negotiating for her needs, there was little support or understanding.

“But then a woman comes in going, ‘OK, I have a child. You’re taking me away from my home. You’re taking my children away from their home. And you’re going to make me work a lot more hours than I usually would if I was home. Therefore, I would have to pay for this nanny for more hours — so I kind of need that. And they go, ‘Nope, we don’t pay for nannies.'”

While we are struggling in America, working parents in the U.K. are trying out a new childcare program. Now in its second year, parents are able to access 15 hours a week of free childcare. Studies just came in that show 99% of 4-year-olds and 94% of 3-year-olds in England are using this program. The goal is to double the hours parents can access care. That means free childcare for 30 hours a week, for 38 weeks out of the year.

I can not even imagine. Free childcare. For everyone.

Since this is a new program there are apparently still a few wrinkles to work out. Some parents say they are struggling to find an available place for their child — there just aren’t enough spaces to fill the need. There are also questions about who will be monitoring and managing all of the childcare facilities.

Despite the early transitional bumps, the U.K. does seem to have placed an amazing priority on working families. Want to know how much they value childcare? They have a childcare minister! Sam Gyimah, the childcare minister, is passionate about families in the U.K.

“No parent should be denied the childcare option that works best for their family but costs have historically been a burden on family finances that prevented them from working if they wanted to. We are removing these barriers and giving parents the chance to return to work.”

When I was trying to jump back into work I eventually did find part-time work at a startup that allowed me to slowly build up my hours. Would I have loved to have had access to free childcare? YES. Would I have loved to have found a job with onsite childcare or childcare subsidies? Absolutely. It’s still a dream I think many parents are chasing.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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